The Essential Guide to Using Instagram for Your Small Business

By Andrea Sharaf
Blogging Bistro Staff Writer

Part 1: Say Hello to Instagram

If you think Instagram is a passing trend, think again: Instagram was the fastest growing social network of 2013, with 150 million users as of September 2013 and 55 million photos shared daily.

The free mobile photo-sharing app has been exploding in popularity so much that Facebook bought it in April 2012 for $1 billion, when the company was only 18 months old.

A-Z social media tips from - I is for InstagramWho is using Instagram?

Instagram 3.5 - Feed

Instagram vs. Twitter

The average Instagram user spends 4 hours 17 minutes per month on Instagram, while the average Twitter user spends 2 hours 50 minutes on Twitter per month (click for source).

That means Instagram users spend 8.5 minutes per day on Instagram, while Twitter users spend 5.5 minutes per day on Twitter.

Instagram is similar to Twitter in that you scroll through a feed of information, in this case photos and 15-second videos, and use hashtags to label your posts. Instagram has a simple, easy-to-learn interface, and users interact with each other by liking or commenting on their photos or videos.

Do you really need another social networking site in your toolbox?

We think so. Because Instagram is visually based, it’s the golden opportunity to show rather than tell your story. Images and videos are the perfect medium for eliciting an emotional response from your followers, which in turn creates a valuable personal connection people crave in this digital era.

Part 2: How Can I Use Instagram to Promote My Small Business?

Are you ready to get creative in how you use Instagram to tell the story of your business? Let’s take a look at how some small businesses are using Instagram to build connections with their clients.

Dogwalkers, Groomers, and Veterinarians

Instagram is cute animal picture central. Using Instagram should be a no-brainer for anyone who works with animals—dogwalkers, groomers, or veterinary clinics.

dog walker instagram

Simply snap a photo of Fido or Fluffy, add a hashtag, and upload it to your feed.

A few hashtags to get you started:




…and of course #puppy and #kitty

Users to check out:

Restaurants, Grocery Stores, and Food Bloggers

Food photos rank right up there with puppy and kitty photos on Instagram. As you can imagine, restaurants, grocery stores, and food bloggers have plenty of fodder for mouth-watering photos.

cafe instagram

Grocery store giant Whole Foods (@wholefoodsmarket) posts pictures of store openings, farmers, and, of course, food.

On a smaller scale, local San Francisco grocery store Bi-Rite Market (@biritesf) connects with clientele by featuring photos of newly arrived products, like Dungeness crab and the first strawberries of the season. Bi-Rite also uses their stream to share photos of promotions and events, like their Wine Blitz sale and wine tastings. With 21,000 followers, Bi-Rite is doing something right.

wine promo instagram

Check out these other food related Instagram accounts:

Authors and Speakers

Instagram is ripe territory for authors and speakers because it gives followers a peek into their world.

writing inspiration instagram

We can see what inspires authors and build a personal connection with authors by liking or commenting on their photos.

Jon Krakauer (@krakauernotwriting) shares photos of the stunning places that inspire his writing, while Ann Voskamp (@annvoskamp) shares photos from her day-to-day life as well as thought-provoking quotes.

@Planomania encourages fellow writers by sharing quotes to help you stay the course.

Don’t forget to follow your favorite publishers; @bethany_house@chroniclebooks, @tyndalehouse, and @parisreview are just a few. Publishers often post sneak peeks of upcoming books and photos from author events.

Writers and Publishers on Instagram


Both brick and mortar businesses and online retailers can share photos of their products, flyers for upcoming sales, and pictures of people using their products.

San Francisco clothing boutique Marmalade (@marmaladesf) shares photos featuring the season’s apparel.

clothing boutique instagram

Is your Etsy shop taking off? Feature photos of items you have for sale. Service-based businesses such as personal trainers can post 15-second videos with workout tips. Do you run a tutoring business on the side? Post ideas of how students can create better study habits.

The Eye Candy Factor

If you feel as if your business lacks the eye candy factor and isn’t suited to Instagram, take a cue from PayPal (@paypal) and Maersk Shipping Lines (@maerskline).

Rather than focusing on its payment product, PayPal homes in on the experiences its product can help create, like driving by a San Francisco landmark in an Uber car, which uses PayPal’s payment service.

paypal instagram

Maersk, on the other hand, posts pictures of their ships and containers throughout the world. The stream has a nautical, industrial feel that is simple and beautiful.

Regardless of what type of business you run, remember that Instagram is all about creating a personal connection. Don’t overwhelm your followers with promotional posts and sales pitches advertisements; be sure to also upload a healthy dose of the people and inspirations behind your brand.

author event promo instagram

10 Types of Marketing Photos or Videos on Instagram:

  1. Events (book signings, meetups, wine tastings)
  2. New products
  3. Sales (Small Business Saturday, Back to School)
  4. Your staff (Put a name to that face)
  5. Satisfied Customers (Pets at the Vet Clinic, people wearing clothes from your boutique)
  6. Teasers/quotations from your upcoming book
  7. Snippets of what inspires your work (nature, family, food)
  8. Crowdsourced photos (more on that later)
  9. 15 second video of how to use your product
  10. Behind the scenes video

10 Types of Marketing Photos or Videos on Instagram

Part 3: Getting Started on Instagram

A. Create a Free Account.

After you download the free Instagram app on your phone, create an account by selecting your username and password. You can change your username at any time, so don’t worry if you don’t have the perfect username picked out yet.

Instagram 3.5 - Profile

Just like with Twitter, your username is preceded with the @ sign. For example, @chroniclebooks or @annvoskamp. This allows you to easily tag another Instagram user. We recommend using the same name as on your company’s other social media accounts—this makes it easy for your followers to find you.

Next, fill out your profile. Write a short bio and include your website in the field provided. It’s important to include a link to your website in your Instagram profile because Instagram does not allow you to include links in the descriptions of your posts.

Instagram accounts are public by default, which is great if you’re using Instagram as a marketing tool. If you’re using Instagram to share photos of your kids with family and friends, though, you can set your account to private.

One last thing to understand about Instagram: it’s primarily a mobile app. This means that while you can view your Instagram feed and profile on the web with a desktop computer, you can only edit and upload photos to your feed through your mobile device.

B. Upload Your First Photo & Learn the Instagram Lingo

Edit & Add a Filter 

Instagram allows you to take a photo from within the app or upload a photo from your phone’s photo album. For the highest quality photo, use the camera within the app to snap a photo.

Photos taken with Instagram’s camera have a resolution of up to 2048 x 2048, depending on the capabilities of your mobile device, while photos imported from your phone’s photo album have a resolution of 612 x 612.

Once you choose your photo, you can edit it within the app. Scale and crop your photo to Instagram’s iconic square shape.

instagram sunset no filter instagram sunset with filterinstagram sunset b&w

Lighten, create a blur effect, add a border, or—and this is one of Instagram’s hottest features—add a filter. With 19 filters to choose from, you can turn your photo to black and white, increase vibrancy, or give it a vintage look. You can always leave your photo au naturel and tag it #nofilter.


Hashtags are another big part of finding and being found by others on Instagram. An event at a local bookstore might tell attendees to tag their event photos with a specific tag, say #smithsigning2014.

Tags can be literal (#book, #sunset, #Seattle, #SpaceNeedle) or figurative (#beauty, #freedom, #goodtimes).

instagram tag photo screen

Hashtags can help build continuity among your pictures. Gap (@Gap) frequently uses hashtags to identify clothing within a certain line, such as #BacktoBlue or #GiveAtoZ. Gap, like many other companies, encourages the people who buy their products to tag their Instagram photos with the hashtag #Gap so Gap “can show their appreciation with likes and comments.”

Hashtags are a great chance to get creative and increase visibility, but before you assign a hashtag to an event or campaign, be sure to search for that hashtag in the Explore section and see if it’s overused or used in any inappropriate ways.

Instagram Hashtags

Tag People

Perhaps you’ve met up with some author friends at a conference and want to tag them. Instagram makes it easy: click the Tag button, type in their Instagram handle, and they’re tagged.

 Instagram 3.5 - Maps

Add to Photo Map 

Tagging your photo to a location on the map is a great option for brick & mortar businesses. Users can see exactly where your store is and what’s been tagged nearby.

Use your judgment in which photos to geotag, though. You probably don’t want to disclose the location of your home to every Instagram user.


Share your photo on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr and more with the simple click of a button. This is also a great way to alert your Facebook and Twitter followers to the fact that you have an Instagram account.

Send your photo or video to up to 15 people with Instagram Direct. Here’s a short video that shows how to use this new feature:

C. Find People to Follow and Build Your Following

When you set up your Instagram account, you will be asked if you want to follow your Facebook friends. Say yes and you’ll get a head start on building your Instagram platform. You can also follow back users who follow you. Be sure to comment on and like your followers’ photos.

Another way to figure out who to follow is to find one author or business you like on Instagram, then click to see who they’re following. If you recognize any people or businesses you’d like to follow too, simply click the Follow button.

D. Advanced Instagram Marketing

Hold a Contest

Instagram contests take many forms: like a photo, “regram” a photo, submit a photo that meets the contest guidelines.

Non-profit retailer Noonday Style (@noondaystyle) uses contests to share their products with followers and increase brand awareness.

noonday style instagram contest 1noonday style instagram contest 2

Instagram contests often use third party apps, like Wishpond. This article from Wishpond analyzes how 10 small businesses used Instagram to hold contests.

Crowdsource Photos

Crowdsourcing photos —“regramming” photos from followers—is popular among big brands and well-known users. In fact, Disneyland’s entire Instagram feed is made up of crowdsourced photos.

In the summer of 2013, the San Francisco Chronicle organized a massive collaborative Instagram project called “How SF Sees SF.” Users tagged their San Francisco photos with #howSFseesSF, and the Chronicle featured the top photos in its feeds. Users could of course search the hashtag #howSFseesSF and see every photo submitted.

Bear in mind that before you regram someone’s photo, you need to get permission. Often asking for permission in the comment section of their photo and attributing the photo to them is all this is necessary.

Analyze the Stats

Advanced users can link their Instagram account to Statigram to get statistics and analytics on their account. See how many followers you’ve gained or lost, which of your photos got the most likes, or create a cover image composed of Instagram photos for your Facebook Fan Page.


Instagram is a growing social media app worth integrating into your social media marketing plan. Your Instagram photos let your followers get to know the people behind your business and build a connection with you. It’s also a great way to alert followers to upcoming sales, events, or book releases.

Getting started is easy—and if you’re like any of Instagram’s 150 million users, you’ll probably discover that it’s lots of fun too.

Let’s Talk

If you have an Instagram account, what’s your username? How have you used Instagram to build your business?

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